Steve Amaral receives overdue Army medals

Friends and family surprise Amaral at VFW.

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VFW quartermaster Peter Herrmann presents Steve Amaral with a trio of Army medals 62 years after he served. — Rich Saltzberg

Steve Amaral, a Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby hall of famer and a 38-year veteran of the Oak Bluffs Fire Department, served in Korea. For some unknown reason, he never received the Army medals he earned for his service.

That changed on Saturday night, when a group of friends and family members surprised him with those medals at Chef Deon’s in the VFW hall. Amaral thought he was attending an event meant to pay tribute to Bob Ganz, a Chilmark landowner whose family had long permitted Amaral, his family, and his friends to hunt and fish on their North Road acreage. Ganz, who sat at the head of the table, was indeed honored. But about 15 minutes after folks gathered, Jules BenDavid, a fellow Army veteran and Amaral’s friend and hunting companion, announced another hunter would play the piano — Gary Engblom. Engblom performed a rendition of “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” As the music wound down, VFW quartermaster Peter Herrmann, a USS Kitty Hawk veteran, stepped behind where Amaral was seated.

“This celebration is not only for Bob Ganz, it’s for Steve Amaral,” Herrmann said. “Steve Amaral served in Korea and came home, and 62 years later — who says the government isn’t slow? — we would like to award you ribbons and medals that you earned from serving in Korea. You’ve been waiting a hell of a long time.”

The table erupted in applause. Amaral accepted the medals and embraced Herrmann.

“It was a total surprise to me,” Amaral later told The Times. Two years ago, he said, he’d put in a request with Herrmann and Dukes County veterans agent Jo Ann Murphy for the medals, but hadn’t heard anything.

Herrmann said the medals arrived this past winter, and he decided to hold a surprise celebration to present them to Amaral. BenDavid helped organize the event and swore everyone invited to secrecy.

Amaral received the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Medal, and the Korean Defense Medal.

Amaral said he served as a specialist 4th class in the Army’s 51st Signal Battalion in Korea in 1955, after receiving pole-line construction training in Georgia. “We put up pole lines up and down the DMZ,” he said. Hostilities were over by the time Amaral arrived due to an Armistice Agreement signed a year earlier. However U.S. armed forces remained in place along the border with newly separated North Korea and are still there to this day.

Amaral said he’s only missed one Derby in the past seven decades, and that was because he was in Korea.“This year it will make 73 out of 74 [Derbies fished],” he said.

Amaral’s father Gus owned Amaral’s Fish Market in Oak Bluffs. As a kid, Amaral said, he remembered accompanying his dad in his panel truck up to Chilmark and Aquinnah to buy scallops. Back then Aquinnah had no electricity, he recalled. He also remembered having to shuck scallops after school, and then hurriedly get cleaned up for sports practice. When he returned from the war, he took up plumbing. He went on to serve as Oak Bluffs’ first representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and as the longtime captain of Oak Bluffs Fire Department Engine 4, in a station where the Alison Shaw Gallery is now located.

“I’m happy to be 10 months from 84 and still going,” Amaral said.